JOHNSTON — The Iowa Board of Regents is considering a plan to alter the funding of Iowa’s three state universities in a way that would benefit the University of Northern Iowa, where about 92 percent of students are from Iowa.

The plan, still in early stages, faces a “variety of complexity,” according to regent Bruce Rastetter.

Not the least of which, Regents’ President Craig Lang added, is the impact on the University of Iowa, where 55 percent of undergraduates are from Iowa and, to a lesser extent, Iowa State University, which has 68 percent in-state students.

“We really think there is a need for us to look at Iowa dollars following Iowa kids,” Lang said after taping Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press that airs at 7:30 tonight and at noon Sunday.

Now, the University of Iowa and Iowa State each get 40 percent of the state funding — about 15 percent of the $4.7 billion budget for the universities and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics — while UNI gets 20 percent.

The change would be “troublesome” for the University of Iowa, Lang said, “and we don’t want to put the University of Iowa in that position. But we would like to look long-range at more Iowa dollars following the actual Iowa kids.”

This is not the regents’ first recognition of UNI’s challenges, Lang said. In-state tuition is about half as much as out-of-state tuition, so UNI has fewer dollars per student than its sister universities. Also, it is not a research institution like ISU and UI, which collectively receive more than $800 million in outside research funding.

In light of that, regents sought and received an additional $4 million from the Legislature for the Cedar Falls university this year. They are requesting the same for the next two years.

The funding formula change, although still vague, appears to be consistent with advice outgoing UNI President Ben Allen gave the Legislature’s Education Appropriations Subcommittee earlier in the week.

“I think having the three universities with the distinct missions, with different orientation, how we do things … is something we don’t want to mess with,” Allen said. “It serves the state very well. The issue that might be looked at is how funding is allocated among the three universities. That is something that creates a little bit more challenge for us.”

Lang and Rastetter repeated their pledge to freeze tuition for a year — assuming the Legislature covers the cost of a collective bargaining agreement — and to hold future increases to the rate of increase in the Higher Education Price Index.

A key to that is the regents’ request for $39.6 million in scholarship funds to replace a tuition set-aside to fund need-based and merit scholarships. The board voted to end that surcharge on tuition after legislative criticism.

The Legislature hasn’t made a decision to fund what would be an annual request for the tuition grant program. Lawmakers, however, have suggested a return to the tuition set-aside, perhaps at a lower rate than in the past.

About 18,000 students received scholarships through the tuition set-aside, Rastetter said, and the regents would lower in-state tuition dollar-for-dollar if the Legislature funds regents’ $39.6 million request.

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